Gila Community College has postponed a key meeting expected to generate a flurry of fireworks and a vote to appoint the board’s chairman.
The meeting at which the GCC board will vote on a chairman and discuss the wisdom of the recent decision to repeal almost all of its rules and bylaws originally set for Jan. 27 will instead take place at 2 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 31.
The Citizens Awareness Committee and other local advocates of independence for GCC had planned to attend the meeting, reportedly to protest the repeal of the board’s bylaws at its December meeting.
Payson board member Tom Loeffler, who missed the December meeting due to a family emergency, has protested the wholesale revocation of the board’s bylaws, including a rule that would have prevented five-term chairman Bob Ashford from serving another one-year term.
Acting in response to a complaint by Loeffler, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office has already held that the board did not violate the open meeting law when it voted 2-1 to repeal all the bylaws adopted before 2005. Chairman Ashford has said that he does not remember the adoption of the bylaw provision limiting the term of the chairman. Moreover, he said that all those bylaws and rules had been adopted by temporarily appointed board members and therefore those rules shouldn’t really apply.
The Attorney General’s Office attorney who received Loeffler’s complaint said that the agenda item saying the board would “review” the policies when coupled with previous board discussions satisfied the demands of the open meeting law. The board majority agreed to hold a study session to come up with new bylaws, but the vote on a new chair will apparently take place before those study sessions.
The renewed dispute about the rules and the chairmanship comes at a crucial moment for the community college.
Gov. Jan Brewer has proposed a 65 percent cut in already shrunken state support for the state’s community college system in her Fiscal Year 2011-12 budget. Ironically, such a cut will actually have a smaller impact on GCC than on most colleges, since GCC already operates as a provisional community college. That means it gets only a fraction of the support enjoyed by most other rural community colleges.
Still, community colleges statewide say the proposed cutbacks will cripple their programs. For instance, a report by Coconino Community College notes that in 2003 the state provided 40 percent of the college’s operating budget but now supplies only 16 percent. In the meantime, tuition has risen steeply — and now accounts for 41 percent of the college’s budget — twice as much as two years ago.
The dramatic decline in state support threatens to eliminate the promise of broad, low-cost access to college, at the same time tuition at the three state universities has roughly doubled — to nearly $9,000 annually.
The governor’s budget has also proposed an additional 20 percent reduction in state support for the university system in the upcoming fiscal year.
Moreover, State Sen. Sylvia Allen has promised to introduce legislation that will make it possible for GCC to shed its provisional college status and become an independent college district. However, that legislation would make GCC wait for several years before it could qualify for equalization funding, which helps support the other rural community college districts in the state. If GCC qualified for that funding currently, it would double its roughly $6 million budget
However, the debate about the merits of GCC’s existing contract with Eastern Arizona College has badly split the GCC board. Ashford has led a Globe-centered board majority, which argues that the 25 percent overhead charge GCC pays to EAC represents a bargain essential to GCC’s survival. The Payson-area board members — including Loeffler and Larry Stephenson, have argued that the board should renegotiate the EAC contract to reduce the overhead cost and give GCC board members more authority over programs, tuition and budget.
The Jan. 31 board meeting will likely air those differences, with much of the debate focused on how the board can make key decisions without any bylaws and policies in effect.